Bloody Balancing Act

Denzel Washington is avenging angel in re-do of ‘80s TV show

Denzel Washington

The Equalizer

Starring Denzel Washington, Chloë Grace Moretz & Marton Csokas

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Rated R

A quote from Mark Twain gives a stately, dignified opening to this avenging-angel saga before Denzel Washington gets down to business with some serious lethal skills.

“The two most important days in your life are the day were born and the day you find out why,” reads the words of the great American man of letters, setting the stage for the epiphany that will put Washington’s character, Robert McCall, on a path of bloody retribution after a young teenage prostitute he has kindly befriended (Chloë Grace Moretz) is beaten to a pulp by members of a vicious Russian mob.

Chloe Grace Moretz

Chloë Grace Moretz

Former music-video director Antoine Fuqua, who also steered Training Day and Olympus Has Fallen, continues a “literary” thread throughout the film. Washington’s character is working his way through 100 books “every American should read,” like The Old Man and the Sea and Don Quixote. The chief Russian baddie is named Vladimir Puskin, a mashup of Vladimir Putin, the current Russian president, and Alexander Puskin, one of that country’s iconic authors and poets of yore.

But that’s just a bunch of blah-blah-blah when it comes down to what this movie’s really about, which is Denzel Washington snappin’ necks, slicin’ veins and takin’ names as he unravels a web of crime and corruption that spreads high, low, deep and wide. Some viewers may recall the TV show from the late ’80s, starring British actor Edward Woodward. The flick takes some liberties, but keeps the concept basically the same: When big, bad guys start pushing little, good guys around, someone has to step in and stabilize—“equalize”—things.

And usually, those “things” get violent—and messy. Washington is a fine actor, as he’s demonstrated many times before, but The Equalizer doesn’t gives his character any real depth or dimension as he stoically, sternly navigates the muddy, bloody moral ground of revenge and reprisal. And his “numbness” only adds to the movie’s feel of “dumbness,” of a story that’s punctuated with moments of gory, hyper-stylized action but hollowed out of anything smart, meaningful, purposeful or original.

For her star billing, Morenz has little actual screen time. Melissa Leto and Bill Pullman make late appearances as acquaintances of McCall’s that help explain how such an ordinary-looking guy honed such extraordinary fighting chops. Marton Csokas plays a particularly nasty Russian “fixer”—ladies, believe me, you never want him behind you, purring into your ear, telling you how beautiful you are, slowly wrapping your head in his hands. And roly-poly Johnny Skourtis becomes an audience favorite as one of McCall’s coworkers (at a “big box” home-improvement store) who later comes through in a pinch.

Denzel WashingtonThat “pinch” is the movie’s big climatic showdown between McCall and the Russian mobsters, set in the store, which provides not only a dramatic setting—with long corridors, deep shadows and high ceilings—but also an arsenal of weaponry, including a cordless drill, barbed wire, a tree pruner and a nail gun, for McCall to even the score

Some viewers may cheer the new Equalizer in all his “valiant” violence, at a time and on a planet spinning seemingly out of control with mayhem, madmen and monsters. But I’m willing to bet Mark Twain would probably be aghast at all the angry blood spilled and smeared over his homespun affirmation about coming into this world, and simply finding out what you’re supposed to do now that you’re here.

—Neil Pond, American Profile and Parade magazines

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